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Let's find ways to be part of the solution, not the problem

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

OK. I had my say a couple weeks ago about Carrollton City Council and it’s inability to decide if code enforcement officer John Welch is not doing his job, or has too big a job for one person to handle.

Any argument regarding the state of the city of Carrollton, in terms of nuisance properties, comes back to this question, it seems.

But today, I’m going to talk about what the citizens in Carrollton – and, heck, citizens throughout the county, might be able to do to make our communities more attractive. Because – John Welch and City Council aside – doesn’t it really just come down to those who live and work here?

Now, a lot of people express concern that about 60 percent of the residences in Carrollton are rentals – many owned by landlords who don’t live in and have no other connection to Carrollton. There also are some empty lots and empty homes owned by out-of-towners, who often neglect the properties.

There is the perception that people who rent are ambivalent about caring for the property where they live. They may be lax at mowing the yard, picking up trash or keeping the exterior of their residence attractive.

This may be true of some, but I can verify from my own experience, it’s not true of all. When I was a renter, I did my best to keep the places where I lived looking nice. I did it because I respected the property and the property owner, and also because I didn’t want my landlord – or my neighbors – to think that I was not a good tenant or neighbor. These were values ingrained in me since childhood by my mother and father, who always kept everything neat and tidy, inside and out.

But yes, there are those who do not share those same values and, frankly, don’t care what anyone thinks about their housekeeping or yard-keeping skills.

There also are probably some who don’t have time – people working two or three jobs to make ends meet, or people with children. I’ve not had children of my own, but I hear they require a lot of one’s time.

And, I’d say that there is a population of renters and homeowners, alike, who are elderly, disabled or battling medical illness, and are unable to keep up on the yard and housework.

The number of reasons for unsightly properties likely is infinite; every case is unique.

So, I propose that we work together as a community to find solutions to the problem.

One idea I got from surfing the Internet. According to the city of Alpena, Mich., Web site, for example, in 2005, the city offered cash awards for the best examples of exterior improvements made to properties within city limits. The Alpena Community Pride Program offered prizes ranging from $250 to $1,000 to residents who entered the contest. To be eligible, the entrant was required to submit one “before” and one “after” photo of the property and fill out an application.

I don’t know how successful it was, but this sounds like a terrific idea. There could be categories for residential and commercial properties. The city of Carrollton could partner with another city in Kentucky or in another state, with one city providing judges for the other’s contest – just to keep things friendly.

Perhaps we could expand on the Project Comfort program, which ia coordinated by Pastor Chris White and others. In this program, volunteers took a Saturday to winterize the homes of a number of elderly residents in the city and county. Maybe there are groups willing to organize a similar event, in which volunteers go through town and offer to mow and trim lawns, clean exterior walls, wash windows, paint porches or prune trees and shrubs.

Perhaps it wouldn’t even require such a large, coordinated effort. Maybe, individuals could check on their neighbors and ask – in a neighborly way – if they could use a hand.

The wheels of government move at an excrutiatingly slow pace – especially here, on any issue that has to do with code enforcement or enforcement of the nuisance ordinance.

So instead of complaining about the problem, let’s be part of the solution.

Phyllis McLaughlin is editor of The News-Democrat. The opinions expressed here are not necessrily those of the newspaper.